For the first time in recent memory, a steam locomotive chugged its way non-stop through Boundary County on the morning of July 4, 2009. The SP4449 Daylight Steam Locomotive pulled a multi-car train full of passengers on a journey from Portland, OR to Minneapolis. The final destination is the 2009 Train Festival in Owosso, MI. The event was mentioned in a Spokane newspaper sometime in June, but otherwise seemed to be lost in mention by the media.
Our heads-up came by good old-fashioned tele-woman communication. Sometime the week before, Twyla Enz called the museum and asked Sue when the steam locomotive would be coming through Bonners Ferry. Twyla had heard that it would be on the morning of the fourth, leaving Spokane at about 8am. Although well intentioned, we didn't accomplish any serious research.
On Saturday morning, I dropped Mike off at Boundary Tractor where he picked up an excavator to continue groundwork for a concrete slab in the museum Railroad History Park. We give a huge kudos to Cal Russell for the donation of equipment use for museum projects. Volunteerism is the heartbeat of our community!
As I drove down the south hill toward the Saturday morning, Farmers' Market, I looked at the Harold Sims Clock tower and thought, "Hmm, nearly 10am, the steam locomotive might be coming. I'll go down by the tracks and see if anyone is waiting." Exiting the by-pass, several cars were pulled up alongside the tracks, so I took my position. There are no strangers in Bonners Ferry, only future friends, so I walked over to the waiting vehicles, and inquired if they were waiting for the steam locomotive. Sure enough, they were and via cell phone, they had learned the train had just passed through Sandpoint. While we waited, I told them I was about to write an article for the Boundary County Digest introducing the museum's first event in the Railroad History Park, August 1. A woman replied that her parents are going to make homemade ice cream at the event. In turn, I shared that historians Paul Rechnitzer and Howard Kent will tell the stories of the railroads in Boundary County. The Great Northern completed the Hi-Line through Boundary County in 1892, followed by the Kootenai Valley Railroad and the Spokane International. In those days, the passenger trains were an important means of transportation, stopping frequently to pick up passengers, freight and mail.
By cell phone, we learned that the steam locomotive had just passed through Naples and was racing toward Bonners Ferry. My new friends decided to drive east toward the valley where there would be a longer view of the train and invited me to join them at the barn. I wanted to include their girls in the train photo, so agreed to follow. As I went back to my car, I visited with other onlookers, searched for my car keys and finally headed east. The lead pick-up had vanished and I was on my own to find the barn. This is Boundary County… Which barn? I passed the old burner which was once Bonners Ferry Lumber Company, the largest mill around. I wondered if we were going as far as Crossport, a wild and lawless railroad camp during the construction of the Great Northern Railroad. Now it is an open field with no hint of buildings, railroad workers or camp followers.
Ah-ha! A barn on the left, a gravel road, train crossing and the pick-ups of train watchers. I pulled in and learned that the steam locomotive would be coming soon. The anticipation mounted. Would it slow down? How many cars would there be? Would there be a caboose? Could we feel the train coming with an ear to the track? We heard the rumble, a distant whistle. The word came again via cell phone; the train just passed through Bonners Ferry and was moving fast. Then, there she was, her headlight an expanding gleam. Her throaty whistle sent shivers up my spine. Ch-ch-ch-ch, clickety clack and the camera shutter snap, snap, snap. Waves to the engineer and passengers and then she was gone. What a memorable Fourth!
The SP 4449 Daylight Steam Locomotive will make her return trip to Portland in the fall, scheduled to travel from Whitefish to Spokane on October 19. To learn more, visit www.sp4449.com
Until then, ALL ABOARD! "The Ice Cream Special" August 1, at the museum. This first event in the Railroad History Park coincides with the All Class Reunion. The event and the new Railroad History interpretive panels are funded in part by the Idaho Humanities Council. Paul Rechnitzer and Howard Kent will share the history of the three railroads in Boundary County. Enjoy fresh dessert made by Peachy's tractor powered ice cream makers. Admission by donation, choose hobo to first class.
Summer museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10-4.